My Soul Grieves at the Gospel

I just got back from the best performance I have ever seen of  “Godspell”.  In case you’re wondering where that was, the production was done by The Steeple Players at the Southington Congregational Church in Southington, CT. I have never seen a professional production of the play, but this was — if not on that level, only a tiny step below it. I’d pay money to see this particular production at a playhouse at any time. It was that good.

But, as I watched this peppy production with happy dance numbers, I felt this weight in my chest and felt overcome with sadness. I’ve been prone to depression, so it could have just been that, but as I thought about it, it wasn’t some biochemical mistake. It was the words of Jesus in the play. There have been other times when the gospel of Matthew has struck me as new again. The first was when I sort of ran away from seminary after a bad relationship. After a month or two, I picked up the Bible and it spoke to me like I’d never read it before. Tonight was like that.

So what’s the deal? What’s with the sadness? In both cases, I sensed that what God wanted and where I was or the society was were very far apart and I was suddenly reminded that there was another way to be — a way that made sense and made me happy, a way different than our own. That’s what happened at the play.

As the actor portraying Jesus spoke from the Sermon on the Mount, I was struck by how weird Jesus  would be in our times, how out of touch he would seem. Our ways are so different than his that’s it’s scary sometimes.

When I was in seminary, I knew a girl named Judy and one night we went out to a club and were talking about Christianity.  She said she didn’t believe in it. I remember asking something about “what part of Jesus’ words did she find offensive?”. She said, “Oh, Jesus. You mean like Jesus’ teachings? I like them. Him, I like. It’s Christianity I have a problem with”. The fact that anyone can see that Christianity and Christ are not connected says we’ve got real problems. It took me a while, but I finally understood what she meant.  Jesus and Paul are different people. The Church is built on Paul at least as much as it on Jesus and away we went. While Paul would say that he was teaching Jesus, they are clearly different in their approach, simply because they are different people. And away we went.

But our society isn’t even in the same dimension as Jesus in the Gospels.  Jesus says things like “don’t worry about what you’ll eat, drink, or wear” We’re obsessed by these things. Food has it’s own channel.  The alcoholics I see frequently are obsessed by what they drink and we believe that Prohibition was a bad idea because people naturally have to drink. And clothes? We still argue about which woman wears the same dress better.  Project Runway anyone? But what Jesus was talking about was possessions and I like possessions. We’re taught to save the economy by buying possessions. Advertising tells us all about the possessions we could have — and there are millions of them. Our goal is to acquire and Jesus says not to even pay attention to things.

Jesus says, “You can’t love God and money” — they’re mutually exclusive — as I try to save money for retirement.  Jesus talks about a man who defends himself against famine by building an extra silo on his farm, only to die a day later. The implication is that we should trust God to supply our needs.  Instead, we build “bigger and better” all the time.

Then there’s all the stuff about making a big fuss about your faith (we’re not supposed to), while on TV televangelists promote how well-to-do they are due to the blessings of Jesus, because they are a Christian. Jesus says, “don’t flaunt your religion. Pray in your room”, while people worry about the “War on Christmas” and fight about the fifth level of fish logos on their car.

Jesus refuses to get involved in a political fight over taxes, while  public supposedly “Christian” people spend all their time doing  just that. Jesus doesn’t spend a word talking about homosexuality, while the church spends all it’s time arguing about it. The “make or break” issue of our time is something Jesus never talked about in the Bible.

Jesus says if you’re angry at your brother, you’d better watch out for the flames of hell. Our economy’s based on war, our video games are based on violence , our whole culture is engulfed in violence on a daily basis and Jesus says we’re in trouble if we get mad? Ouch.

Psychology and politics both say not to give money to that bum who asks for money because it’ll only make things worse. Jesus says to never refuse someone asking for money, and give them more than they asked for.  Either the man’s insane or we are. Guess which one I vote for.  If Jesus’ words are about how to make the world work, how to love each other, how not to judge others without look at ourselves first, we have created a world where cooperation doesn’t make the news and  all the ways we hate each other do. Our media tells us that judging others is almost a divine right.  We get to laugh at all those people on Jerry Springer. We are encouraged to call certain styles of clothes ugly. we pick on people because they are not like us while we don’t even like ourselves.

Godspell is a great play, and the Southington production is better than many. I just wish it didn’t highlight how messed up we are as a culture. Oh, well. I guess I’ll just have to listen to that Jesus guy to remind myself how easy life could be — and how far off from that we are.

Peace,

John

(BTW, look for my new blog, “Because It Matters”, starting soon. Like It Matters will still be about personal opinions. Because will be more positive and tell people about good things I want people to know about)

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2 thoughts on “My Soul Grieves at the Gospel

  1. I was present at the Steeple players production last night also. I too was impressed with the extraordinary level of performance from these high school young people. I have seen a professional performance, and last night was equal to it! I have also performed in Godspell, in one of those church youth group performances you mentioned. It was back at the beginning of the whole Godspell thing. I was struck last night with how timeless the message of this production is. When I was performing it was the early 70s and the “hippie” dress and style were all over our production. Last night it was funny and edgy and had the stamp of this current generations fashion and humor. So relevant for their modern 2012 audience.

    And the message. As I read your comments John, I came to realize why I love the Gospel of Matthew so much. Matthew sticks our hypocrisy right in our face. Last night when Jesus was singing, “Alas, Alas for you, lawyers and pharisees, hypocrites that you are…” I squirmed in my seat just a little. I am a pharisee! And I think way too much about food (love the food network) and spend way too much time and money on clothes. I spend some of the time in my work as pastor of a church with the poor and disenfranchised of the community I work in. The numbers in that group are growing, the agencies and groups helping them are shrinking in number and funding. Jesus could step right in and just read from his own script of 2000 years ago….and it would still preach as the most relevant thing. Amazing!

    I think I am going to get my Bible out today and read Matthew again. Hearing it again for the first time? You bet. Thanks to Godspell’s 40 year run….preaching that Gospel to all us hypocrites. (BTW….Godspell is currently in revival of Broadway… 100 shows so far.)

    • Lisa:

      Thank you for the comment. I figured it out today. I have probably seen Godspell since I was 15 years old — 36 years! It astounds mr how each production means something to the cast, crew and audience. This one had great “production values” on addition to the words of Jesus.

      I can’t tell if it’s a sign that I have a good spiritual life or a poor one that it has this effect, but my life and thoughts are clearly in need of change. So I’ll go back at it again tomorrow. (Saturday’s pretty much gone as I write this).

      Thanks again for engaging this duscussion!

      Peace,

      John

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